The Ghost Returns

Filmmaker Ashok Amritraj talks about Ghost Rider 2 that’s releasing this week, his new venture with National Geographic and the global synergy of his businesses

Tennis pro-turned-film producer Ashok Amritraj’s ride in Hollywood seems to be faster than that of his demonic Ghost Rider on the blazing Thunderbird across Anatolia in the hell-on-wheels sequel. Having produced 103 films in an incredible span of three decades, the robustly optimistic CEO of Hyde Park, is looking at fresh projects to reinvent himself. Besides strengthening his operations in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, he has also taken over as CEO of National Geographic Films. As the Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance opens this week in Tamil Nadu, he talks about the appeal of the Marvel comic book hero, the soul-sold motorist with a flaming skull, and his plans for Asia. Excerpts:

RIDE CONTINUES… Nicolas Cage reprises his role of Johnny Blaze. The action shifts to Eastern Europe, where the Ghost Rider is in hiding. This time, there’s no Faustian pact with the devil. Blaze is forced to come out to save a boy whom the demon wants to take over. It’s a dark film, but then there is this good vs. evil element that’s sure to appeal to a larger audience. The visual effects are stunning and the 3D has a lot of depth with some great pop-ups.

BEHIND THE SCENES Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (think Crank), are full of ideas and radiate energy. They used to chase the speeding motorbike-riding hero on roller skates during the filming! Nic has become synonymous with the Ghost Rider. I was surprised when he showed me a tattoo of the blazing rider on his arm. He was keen on doing some unbelievable stunts too.

WORLD VIEW Hyde Park has forged strategic partnerships in different continents. This signals the direction in which we are moving — the global synergy of our businesses. Hyde Park is now vertically integrated — we have our own production, distribution and marketing channels. In the Middle East, we have tied up with Image Nation (Abu Dhabi) and in Singapore, we are with Media Development Authority (MDA). While Hyde Park International takes care of our global marketing and distribution network, Hyde Park Entertainment looks at production. With MDA, Hyde Park is already remaking a Korean classic.

FANTASY TO FACT In January this year, Hyde Park Entertainment, National Geographic and Image Nation signed a pact to deliver high-quality entertainment. I’m the CEO of this dynamic venture. But for Nat Geo Films, I will have to move away from fantasy to fact! Besides full-length features, we will produce docu-drama. My creative team will have to scout for a new set of well-researched stories that are based on science or history. Such new dimensions to my work keep me invigorated. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop making films like Ghost Rider.

FUTURE STOCK Hyde Park will handle the overseas sales of Thunder Run, a Gerard Butler-Sam Worthington-Matthew McConaughey film based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad.” The film involves too much CGI, so the release has been scheduled for 2013. I’m also trying to figure out who to work with in India. I’m open to Hindi and Tamil scripts. I don’t mind working even with little-known faces, provided the script is really different. Co-productions in China too are on our agenda.

AN AMAZING JOURNEY I went to Hollywood hoping to make a couple of films, but managed to produce over a hundred. Success is about balancing home and work. Three decades of films and two decades of marriage… it’s been incredible. In Hollywood, you are floating in an elevated sense of reality. Jet-setting lifestyle, lavish yacht parties and stunning women… so it’s important to stay grounded and committed to family. I’ve met and worked with people I dreamt of — have had them over to my house for dinner or to play tennis. In a way, I was able to break boundaries long before India became fashionable. I’ve introduced many Hollywood celebrities to Indian food.